Peter, that's a very good "when in Rome" article. I especially like your comments on hierarchy within the Japanese culture.
I don't think by any means that Japanese culture has a corner on showing respect. They just do it within the context of their society. From an American perspective, and also from someone who lived for many years in Europe, I find some of what might be called "respect" in Japan to be particularly harsh, and on some levels disrespectful on a human level. From the point of view of someone like J. Krishnamurti, actually violent and deeply racist in its nationalism.
Also, because of the more strict hierarchical nature in Japan, much of JMA smacks of Multi Level Marketing. And I see a huge lack of respect on many levels with that. Firstly, there are those at the top, many of whom arrived there through inflated dan grades. Secondly, they only remain in that position by suppressing the bottom, rather than truly being a support. And thirdly, many on the top actually manage to pull the wool over the eyes of people lower in the ranks, as if to make them feel that if they don't please the top brass that they'll be invalidated and unable to advance in the art.
Many are waking up to the fact that that is complete nonsense,. and in some cultures even seen as abusive behavior. Even Aikikai has lost serious footing in the Aikido world. I don't see them doing well moving into the next half century.
There are already pockets of very experienced people around the world who are bringing real innovation to aikido in a way that is simply not coming at of Japan any longer. Even within Japan, budo is losing serious traction. Yoko Okamoto said in an interview, "If we are to survive, we must appeal to the new generation. I want to update the old-fashioned image of Budo, without losing the essence."
Your article also aptly dovetails with Shoji Nishio's point and drives home the reminder that, "Budo must always reflect its surroundings. If it isn't newer and stronger, it isn't valid."
At our school, in New York in the US, we don't bow. We don't have any pictures hanging on the walls of dead people. People can wear whatever they want. We shake hands before and after class, with the occasional hug or fist bump. We look each other in the eye. Everyone is treated as an equal. Everyone is supported and encouraged to discover their own expression of movement and martial arts. We understand that having a relaxed body with mindful attention is an important component to truly learning the skills, and really getting them into the body.
We in no way hold people back, or do anything to delay their progress, or put anything out there to make people feel less than. We also at times train in ways that are far more dangerous than I have seen in most aikido dojos. But we have a level of trust, openness, and mindful attention to what we're doing that allows us to jointly train in those realms at times.
That's just the way we choose to roll as a reflection of our surroundings.
I love Italy and Italian food as much as anyone, and I even lived in Italy for awhile. And I can make a mean lasagne and knock out a stellar osso bucco. I know the difference between the foods in various regions in Italy, and have enjoyed them there all firsthand. I actually just noticed I have a copy of Pellegrino Artusi's "Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well" sitting here on the table. I was even taught how to make a Bellini personally by Harry Cipriani.
Part of what we're running into with "reflecting our surroundings" in many places around the world, is that people are waking up to the fact that they can learn and explore completely free of any cultural or organizational hierarchy. And in more and more cases, many of those people are surpassing levels that the old guard thought they'd held firmly in hand.
Recently, Japan has shown Scotland what real innovations in single-malt whisky
As the old guard dies off, and the hierarchies lose their relevance and importance, the best and most innovative Aikido in the coming decades, will be coming out of America. It's already happening.